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News/Business. (2009) A young woman working as an undercover police informant is killed when a drug bust goes bad. New. (CC) (Stereo)

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Rosalind 17, Tallahassee 15, Alan 12, Bradshaw 11, Montel 9, Kathy 9, Us 9, Rachel Hoffman 7, Pender 7, Tull 6, America 5, Jeff Smith 4, Brenda Simpson 4, Fibromyalgia 4, Allen 4, Montell 4, Angus 4, Ryan Pender 4, Liza 3, Lyrica 3,
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  NBC    Dateline NBC    News/Business.  (2009) A young woman working as an  
   undercover police informant is killed when a drug bust goes bad....  

    August 14, 2009
    9:00 - 11:00pm EDT  

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kids here, going to football games. smoking pot. >> in a party town, she stood out from the crowd. >> young, hip, smart, and in trouble. arrested for drugs. then, police made her an offer. >> you help us, we'll get you out of trouble. >> go undercover as a drug informant in a secret sting. >> the cops assured her everything was going to be okay. >> but okay it wasn't. when the deal went down, things went bad. >> that was the last anyone saw her. >> this was no crusading cops
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show, this was real. >> your daughter is missing. >> where was rachel and where were the police sworn to protect her. she cried out for help and nobody was there to hear her. her family learns the harrowing truth. >> we were just outraged. >> i'm going to keep your spirit alive. >> and fights for their only child. >> no family should ever have to suffer this kind of pain. "deadly dealing." >> they were the final moments with her young son. >> she said i love you, mom. >> i love you too. >> his body later found in the river. had he found trouble while fishing? she didn't buy it. >> i knew that who ever did this, i had trusted my son with. >> he didn't either. >> first thing you took was your fishing pole. he didn't. >> years went by with no arrests. yet he made a vow. >> it was murder and he would prove it.
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>> she kept the faith, despite some outrageous theories. >> they asked if he drank? he's 11 years old? >> right. >> but could he keep his promise and find out what really happened to her son? >> i blame myself for a long time because i let him go. >> a mother's mission to learn the truth. >> to hear that what did that feel like for you finally? down by the river. good evening and welcome to "dateline." i am ann curry. a young woman agreed to a deal to help police meet drug dealers. when she suddenly found herself alone staring down the barrel of a gun her family wanted to know why weren't officers there to protect her. here is chris hansen.
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>> she had the smile that was magnetic. and it would just light up the room. >> she had many, many, many friends. and if you look at pictures of rachel she's hugging other people, she gave a lot of love out and got a lot of love back. >> reporter: rachel morningstar hoffman was the only child of herb hoffman and they divorced when rachel was young but continued to live together outside clearwater, florida, as rachel grew into a college student and young woman. a modern day flower child, hippy chick, loved going to bars, listening to music and hanging out with her many friends. especially as her girls, as her three friends know well. >> if you were one of rachel's girls that went something real special. it meant that she loved you. and that she would do anything for you. and that her door was always open. >> reporter: rachel was carefree and a bit spoiled being an only child whose father covered most of her expenses. but she was very generous, her
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friends say, often paying for meals and drinks out for those with less money. and throwing casual dinner parties at her college apartment in tallahassee. she often cooked herself, and was an aspiring chef who planned to attend culinary school. >> some of the best food i had in tallahassee was made by rachel for sure. >> great police to hang out? >> yeah, yeah. >> she loved to be whit hith he friends, having a good time. enjoying every second. you don't know what would happen tomorrow. >> reporter: rachel was a solid b student at florida state university where he graduated in 2007. like many other college students she smoked marijuana. >> something that seems to be socially accepted within our generations and generations before us as well. >> reporter: rachel had a taste for premium pot. she started to smell small amounts to friends to cover the cost. >> when she would have people over, some times she would have really good marijuana and give one of her friends a half 1/8. wasn't like she was giving a
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pound to this guy and a pund to this guy. it wasn't allen like that at all. >> reporter: but it would be marijuana along with rachel's naive yet confident personality that ultimately would lead her down a dead-end road that nobody could have predicted. it all started near campus when february day in 2007 when rachel was a college senior and was pulled over for speeding. the officer smelled marijuana in her car, and demanded she hand it over. she took out from her purse, about 25 grams, under an ounce of weed. an amount that would be a misdemeanor or less in every state of this country except florida where it was enough to get a charge of felony possession. prison was a possibility. instead she was placed in a court supervised drug diversion pro grachlt if she completed it the charge would be dropped and her record would be clean. what kind of a talking to did you give her when you learned that she had been stopped for speeding and had pot in the car? >> i have always told rachel that she needs to start making
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good decisions in her life. that pot is the gateway for other bad things to happen or for the use of other drugs. so she always got the message from me to do the right thing. to make good choices. >> reporter: being in the drug diversion program required that rachel remain in tallahassee even after she graduated that year so she could be randomly drug tested and attend meetings. did she treat it like this was a good thing? was this a pain? >> it was a pain. because you are being treated as a drug addict. she wasn't a drug addict. you don't need to go to drug counseling for marijuana use. >> reporter: her friends say that rachel stopped smoking and selling marijuana for a while. but that didn't last. >> she was just sitting in tallahassee doing nothing. just, she was only there for the drug court program. and she just, you know, started smoking again. >> reporter: how did she pass her random drug tests? >> rachel used a wizinator when
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she took her drug test at the drug court. synthetic urine heated up to the correct temperature and she was able to pass her drug tests that way. >> reporter: rachel missed a random drug test in february, 2008 when she attended the funeral in clearwater of cole's father. rachel and cole had been friends since fourth grade. >> rachel being one of my best friends, was obviously very concerned about me. rachel felt the need to be there for me and my family. and it was what was most important to her at that time. a friend was in need. and for her, that's -- that's all she needed to know. >> reporter: rachel stayed for a few days, cole truly appreciated. >> she knew i needed her and would draw strength from her being there. and i can't thank her enough for -- for doing that for me. >> reporter: but missing that random drug test sent her to jail for a weekend. >> i feel a little bit of guilt, you know, that that's why she
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then had to go and spend a weekend in jail over that. it was a very ugly experience for her. >> reporter: her parents knew she had missed the drug test and went few jail because of it. but they did not know she was smoking marijuana again and certainly had no idea she was selling it to friend. the life she told them she was living was quite different. >> she had told us she was working at a restaurant, actually sometimes doing double shifts, and we both took her at her word and believed that. >> reporter: why do you think she lied to you about that? >> i think she didn't want to hurt us. i think she would know that we would be disappointed. >> reporter: but there were soon more serious consequences than disappointing her parents. the tallahassee police got wind of rachel's pot dealing. one day they searched her trash and found a tally sheet of drug sales. and that led to a raid on rachel's apartment. >> i was driving over to rachel's place to go pick her
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up. and tried to call her on the way because there was traffic. she didn't pick up. i just continued over there. and as i walked up the stairs to her place, rachel was standing outside. and the hallway there, and there were three officers there with, with her. >> reporter: what did you think was going on? >> i thought maybe they were raiding her. >> reporter: police found just over 5 ounces of marijuana spread around her apartment, on the couch. under it and stuck between the cushions and found six ecstasy pills. they had enough to arrest her. it certainly didn't look good for rachel. >> she was scared she would have to spend more time in jail. and rachel was just not the kind of person who could handle an experience like that. >> reporter: in fact, the police told rachel a few years in prison was a real possibility. as she faced multiple felonies. but instead of proceeding with the case and without contacting the prosecutor's office they made a stunning deal with her to become a confidential informant. was she freaked out or okay with the notion of helping them?
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>> i don't know she was okay with the notion of helping them. tallahassee police department said to her, what she needed to hear was that, you help us, we'll get you out of trouble. and then you can move on. that's what -- she want to do. >> reporter: so the next day without speaking to her attorney, who handled the first marijuana arrest or her parents, 23-year-old rachel morningstar hoffman, flower child aspiring chef went to police headquarters and officially became a confidential informant. she would go undercover to help bust suspected drug dealers and in exchange she would stay out of jail. it sounded easy. but that would not be the case. coming up -- the undercover plot, rachel is game, and then, she's gone. >> the tallahassee police department called and said that your daughter is missing. get an accurate reading. ill so okay...um...eighteen pounds and a smidge. a smidge?
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the tallahassee police department called and said "your daughter's missing." >> missing? >> just missing. >> reporter: about 3:00 a.m., the wee hours of may 8th when rachel's father received the unexpected an upsetting phone call. >> they had no more information. margie called me, couple minutes later and said she got the same phone call. she believed rachel was staeg wistaeg -- was staying with a friend. and went back to sleep. got another call. i would say about 9:00, again, saying, this is, sergeant so-and-so, and your daughter is missing. >> reporter: did you demand details? on how? >> i asked. >> what do you mean? >> can you give me a little bit more information? he said i would advise you to
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come up to tallahassee. i got in my car an i did. >> reporter: 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon the day after your daughter went missing at the tallahassee police department. what are they telling you? >> they said we are looking for her. she is missing. we have no further information. >> reporter: how did the police know she was missing? >> they didn't tell us anything. we were outraged. they told us to go wait at rachel's apartment. and if they got information they would give it to us. we had no clue. >> reporter: did you think it was odd the police would tell you your daughter was missing? but they wouldn't say why they thought that? or how she went missing? >> what i thought odd was they took us to the narcotics division. i said why are we in the narcotics division, my daughter doesn't do heroin. >> reporter: police didn't explain. margie and irv went to their daughter's apartment to wait with a police victims advocate, their rabbi and some of their daughter's friends. >> we started cleaning rachel's
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apartment. >> reporter: while they had no idea what could cause rachel to go missing. her friend did. they couldn't bring themselves to tell rachel's parents their beloved daughter was in serious trouble once again much less out working as a confidential informant for the police. >> how do you look someone's parents in the eye and tell them that, you know, your daughter has been lying to you for a little while. >> reporter: rachel's friend say from the beginning she thought becoming a confidential informant would be a quick, painless way to get out of her legal troubles and out of tallahassee to go to culinary school. it would only take a few hours and police would be watching her back. >> she told me they told her the worst thing that could happen is that they would arrest her too to make her look like she wasn't in on it. then take off the cuffs in the cop car and drive her home. >> reporter: that was it. out from under this? >> she was supposed to meet up with the guys. she was supposed to say looks good. the cops come in. >> she obviously believed the
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police officers knew what they were doing and would protect her. i remember one of the officers even saying, they would keep her safe. >> she just said, "don't worry. i can see you worrying. it's going to be fine." that was all she really said. i didn't worry. because she always took care of herself. >> reporter: her friends started hearing more about the undercover operation during the couple weeks that rachel and police worked on developing a drug buy that could turn into a big bust. she worked primarily with the lead investigator on the case, 32-year-old ryan pender who had raided her apartment. as they worked together. rachel became increasingly comfortable with him which was especially apparent to rachel's friends when she and liza went away for a weekend at the beach. >> the whole weekend, rachel was on the phone, texting, pender, her investigator back and forth. it came up as pooh-bear. he had her enter the name so it wouldn't come up as her investigator. >> did that signify to you the level of trust and comfort she
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had with this investigator? >> she said he gets to choose who he works with. he chose to work with her because he felt she could handle the situation. >> finally police thought they had the big sting they were looking for. the target of the busts two men in their 20s rachel met through a friend. she knew very little about them. the police seemed to not know much about them ooelts. which would come back to haunt everyone. the deal was to go down in the early evening hours of may 7th. rachel wanted liza to follow her on the sting. and use a small camera to videotape it. >> in case she was ever charged she would be like here is the evidence i did the sting for you. >> reporter: it all seemed a little surreal to liza but also very safe. >> i wasn't worried about it at all. she assured me so many times that everything was going to be okay because the police assured her so many times that everything was going to be okay. >> exact details were fuzzy. li sfwlchlt a drove towards this park where the bust was to happen. >> that's where i was supposed to meet her. >> reporter: then she got a text message from rachel.
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>> it said, it's far. i'll call you after. >> reporter: liza continued driving anyway. if i would see a cop or rachel i would keep heading north. the next time she would see either was hours later in the middle of the night. coming up -- the plan goes down. but the deal goes bad. drugs, guns, danger. >> she goes up over the crest in the hill. that was the last anyone saw of her. - uh-huh. - ( rope creaking ) - ( rope snaps ) - ( piano clangs ) - ( crashes ) - glad forceflex trash bags are so strong, one bag is all you need to pick up the pieces from even your biggest disasters. - ( doorbell rings ) - where do you want the piano? for stretchable strength get glad forceflex. how about a swim? for stretchable strength i'm a little irregular today. don't you eat activia?
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>> reporter: on the evening of the operation, rachel hoffman newly recruited undercover operative arrived at the tallahassee police department at about 6:00 pp a.m. and met with pender, a seven year veteran, worked up to an undercover vice investigator with an excellent record. the deal about to go down was big. rachel would be buying from the two men in the sting not only drugs, 2.5 ounces of cocaine and 1,500 ecstasy pills but also a gun. the price $13,000 which police gave her in recorded bills. an unprecedented amount of money for an undercover sting in this town. also given an audio transmitter so police could overhear what was happening. she put it into her purse along with the cash. the targets of the sting were denelo bradshaw and andre green. bradshaw had grown up in a religious home in a tight-knit family but was a high school dropout with a record of
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marijuana convictions. even more troubling he was also the lead suspect in a gun theft two days earlier from a customer's car at a detailing shop where he worked. green was bradshaw's brother-in-law. he had grown up in foster care and had a history of violence. in fact, green had a long rap sheet starting when he was 12 and included aggravated battery, burglary, cocaine possession and prison time. rachel had no idea about the background of the men she was about to tangle with. >> i don't think for one second that rachel hoffman thought she was in any danger. >> reporter: jennifer portman, a reporter for the tallahassee democrat has been able to piece together the story of just what happened. >> she had a lot of confidence in the police. >> reporter: the deal was about to go down. the lowhad -- the location of the bust had changed several times. it was finally set at this park on the north side of town, rachel was unfamiliar with.
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at 6:30 as officers took up their position in the park, rachel left the police station in her car by herself and headed north. >> she was being followed by a dea agent in one car and pender and another officer in another car. there are several entrances to the park. she dent know where she was going. makes the wrong turn. >> reporter: goes into the first instead of the second? >> right. >> reporter: pender calls her on the cell phone. >> you made the wrong turn. come on out. it's the next one where the flashing light is. he stops traffic so she can make the left and pull out. >> reporter: rachel was to drive north a short distance and turn left into the next park entrance. that didn't happen. there is a crest in the hill. she goes up over the rise and drops down and that was the last anyone saw her. >> she goes over the hill. they keep waiting. waiting. is she there. is she there. all expecting her to turn into the park where all the police are. there is nothing. they start to get worried. she calls and says that the suspects had called her and said they wanted her to meet them at
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the nursery. >> reporter: this plant nursery a mile north of the park that bradshaw's parents own. around this time, 15 minutes after rachel left the police department, the audio transmitter in her purse stopped working. although she didn't know it. the police could no longer monitor her conversations. the timing couldn't have been worse because rachel was now on to yet another location for the drug gun deal. a dead-end road a mile north of the nursery. >> pender starts calling her on the phone. felt like he called her 1,000 times. probably, two, three times. all this is happening in seconds. all very quickly. he finally gets her on the cell phone. she says to him. i am on gardener road. it is going to go down. he says turn around. turn around. her phone goes dead. >> reporter: rachel was on the dead-end road, with two men. one with a history of violence. they knew she would have $13 t she knew they would have a gun she was intending to buy as part of the sting. she thought the police were
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right behind her. >> she was convinced the cavalry was going to roll over the hill and she was going to be fine. >> reporter: meanwhile, liza supposed to be videotaping the drug deal was driving in and out of the park looking for rachel and the police. she found nothing. >> just saw people playing tennis, kids playing on the playground. no cop cars, no suspicious looking drug dealers or anything look that. >> reporter: how worried were you about rachel at this point? >> i still wasn't worried. the cops assured her in any situation everything was okay. she was under the impression she was going to be under line of sight supervision the entire time. >> reporter: that was not the casech not only had police lost sight of rachel they lost track of her completely. she was no longer answering her phone and audio transmitter was dead. they knew she was on gardener road. only one of the 19 officers involved in the operation knew where that was. by the time police got there, rachel, the suspects and their cars were gone. even with all of the manpower
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and promises that rachel would be safe, 15 minutes into the operation, she had disappeared. >> they found a black flip-flop in the middle of the road. at the time they didn't know that was significant. they didn't know she was wearing black flip-flops. >> reporter: there was other evidence they didn't immediately see. a shell casing and two bullets on the road. they found rachel's iphone in a ditch several miles away. that night, tallahassee officers were in a frenzy to find rachel and all that cash. >> they have no idea what happened few her. the concern was about the money. it was the largest amount of money they ever checked out. the largest number of officers involved in a buy bust anyone can remember. >> reporter: liza unaware rachel was in a dangerous situation continued to drive north all the way to the georgia border searching for signs of a drug bust. she saw no police and no rachel. she eventually went out with a friend. liza didn't become concerned about rachel for a couple more hours.
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>> by 11:00 i started to worry. i sent her a text, okay. babe is everything okay. i am worried about you. >> reporter: no response. where was rachel? then in the middle of the night there was a knock on the door. >> tallahassee police at 3:00 in the morning, a plain clothe cop in jeans and bulletproof vests came asking do i know where rachel is. i thought she was with you? >> reporter: did they say anything more about what happened? >> they didn't. >> thinking rachel may be hiding out with all or part of the cash police had given her for the deal. officers want to rachel's boyfriend's home. they were on the front porch. where is rachel? i thought she was supposed to be with you. they told him, got crazy. >> reporter: when police made the call to rachel's parents to tell them their daughter was missing. her mom, immediately called rachel's friend cole wanting him to call other friends to see if they knew where rachel was. he continued to check in with her throughout the day. >> i was just hoping that they
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caught the suspects. she was with them. she was fine. >> reporter: jesse who lives in miami received a call that morning from a close friend of rachel's who knew she was doing the sting. >> he called me and said, i'm sorry, but rachel is missing and i think she is dead. >> reporter: dead. what did you do? >> i flipped out. i was like why would you say that to me? he was like she has been missing and she swore to call me the second it was over. he didn't hear from her. that he was to assume the worst. >> reporter: coming up -- from undercover sting to wide-open search. >> in a state of shock. disbelief. denial. >> reporter: what had happened to rachel? when "deadly dealing" continues. your cravings lately?
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it was the morning after rachel went missing that jesse received the alarming phone call from rachel's friend who knew about the sting. >> he was like i think she's dead. i said you can't say that to me. don't say that to me. unless you know something. >> reporter: liza was more
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optimistic. >> the police assured rachel and me so many times everything would be okay. at the point she was still missing i thought worst case scenario she is hiding in the woods. >> reporter: while rachel's friend and parents waited for word about her fate, the police were frantically trying to find green, bradshaw and rachel. police were worried about the condition they would find her in. at noon they found rachel's car abandoned in a parking lot in the rural town of perry less than an hour from tallahassee. green had relatives there. they told police, green and bradshaw showed up in town the night before with a lot of cash. they also told police that the two men had gone to orlando. at 5:00 p.m., 22 hours after the undercover sting became a high-alert search situation, green and bradshaw were finally located there. they were arrested, interrogated and driven back to tallahassee where they were booked. the men told police what they had feared, rachel was indeed dead. but police were not telling her parents or the public the grim
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news. at least not yet. at 7:00 a.m. friday morning, now 36 hours after rachel went missing, green and bradshaw took officers to where they had dumped her body in the woods off a dirt road just outside perry. it was only after that, rachel's parents were told. >> the rabbi and the police advocate came in and they told me that they had found rachel's body. >> reporter: rachel their gregarious, beautiful, beloved daughter was dead. how do you even process that information? >> i don't know if you can really process it at that time. i think you are still in a state of shock. disbelief, denial. expecting her to -- to walk into the door, walk in the door and just give you a big hug. >> reporter: rachel had been shot on gardener road multiple times, most likely after the phone went dead as the investigator was talking to her. green and bradshaw were
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initially charged with armed robbery but not murder. meanwhile police were saying little publicly except that rachel was involved in drugs, became a confidential informant and during the undercover operation she died. and right from the start, they blamed her for her own death. >> unfortunately, rachel chose to ignore precautions establisheden a previous briefing. the choice to meet and -- to leave and meet green and bradshaw ultimately led to her murder. >> reporter: rachel's parents watched the chief on tv like everyone else in tallahassee how they first learned their daughter had been caught with marijuana a second time and became a confidential informant. >> we were in rachel's apartment. and the chief of police first came on the air. and assassinated rachel's name. saying that she was breaking the laws, that she was selling large amounts of pot, that she was a criminal. they said she did not follow proper protocol and basically
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blamed her for her own death. and we were just outraged by this. >> reporter: what's more the police department released a stack of documents in what looked look an effort to cast an even bigger shadow over rachel's character. the record showed she had been busted twice for underaged drinking and received some traffic tickets and also been the victim of a few robberies which police implied were connected to drug activity. >> he made her out to be the next american gangster. that certainly was our daughter he was talking about. awe here our daughter had been murdered then we have to listen to all this slander. it made it that much more painful and more difficult to tolerate. >> it's hard to begin to grieve when facts aren't being disclosed right away for whatever reason. and to just immediately release that it was rachel's fault. how is shy supposed to know what to do to handle a situation like that. >> i have had numerous
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discussions with the chief during and after. one of the things i told him. chief don't blame the girl. >> willie meggs, the state's attorney in tallahassee, prosecutor here for two decades and has overseen many undercover operations. as it is unfolding you see this news conference where the chief is talking about her back ground, minor in possession of alcohol, and it almost looked like character asass nation to some people? >> you know, i think you have to be fair to the chief. he dent come out and say here's what i want to tell you. he is responding to questions. what is her background. >> some thought the police chief was trying to turn college indiscretions into more serious crimes. reporter jennifer portman. >> it's a party town. kids here drinking on the bars on tennessee street. they're having a lot of fun. going to football games, kids are smoking pot. like a lot of other college towns. i don't think the fact that she was smoking pot or selling pot to her friends was all that
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unusual. >> reporter: what was unusual was to have someone like rachel hoffman working as a confidential informant. >> most of the time informants are not sympathetic characters. they are criminals. i think that rachel broke from that pattern and she was so easy for people, especially in this town to identify with as their daughter, a friend, someone who was much closer to them. and people immediately wondered what was this girl doing there? why her? >> do you think that's what kind of fed the story early on. >> i do. >> reporter: rachel being killed while working for the police became a huge story in town. at first, the community was split on whose fault it was. >> we have had people very upset with the police. they got her killed. the negligence. they should have never had her there. you have people who put blame on rachel. you know she was a drug dealer and should have followed orders. >> reporter: it wasn't until almost three months after rachel died that her parents and the city learned what happened during the drug sting.
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details of the tallahassee police department drug sting were first made public in a report released by a state grand jury almost three months after rachel hoffman was killed. >> i think that when the grand jury presentment came out that was really kind of a watershed moment. >> that's because the report was a scathing criticism of the police department's handling of the operation. the police department handed ms. hoffman to bradshaw and green to rob and kill her as they saw fit. less than 15 minutes after they left the police department she drove out of the seeing the of officers who assured her they would be on top of her and listening the whole time. she cried out for help and she was shot and killed. and nobody was there to hear her. >> pretty much says it. >> that's harsh. >> that's harsh. that resonated. >> letting a young, immature
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woman get into a car by herself with $13,000 to go off and meet two convicted felons they knew were bringing one firearm with them was an unconscionable decision that cost ms. hoffman her life. doesn't get any clearer than that. >> it doesn't. this kind of crystallized it. >> reporter: the state's attorney, oversaw the grand jury's investigation. was it appropriate for the police to put herren that position? >> if we do at the beginning, what we know now, you would clearly say now. it went from 0 to 60 instead of going from 0 to 20 and building a little relationship. making a couple of small controlled buys and building some confidence. >> reporter: this was a situation where the police wanted her to find someone who would sell cocaine, ecstasy, and a gun. now she has got no experience with cocaine and guns. >> no experience with cocaine. no experience with guns.
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with hindsight, clearly she was over her head. >> the grand jury said a confidential informant should never be sent alone to buy a gun. what's more, the police had not got any prufl from meggs office to use rachel as an informant as they should have. when rachel violated protocol, telling her friends she was working for the police, the lead officer on the case, ryan pender let it pass instead of dropping her as an informant. the grand jury said it should have been obvious to pender early on, rachel's lack of experience, dealing drugs, beyond selling pot to her friends. coupled with a carefree attitude and poor judgment made her the wrong person to be a confidential informant. >> what happened to rachel is very sad. the sort of tragic tale of overconfidence. everyone was overconfident. rachel was overconfident. >> right. ryan pender, overconfident in rachel. >> she was a unique catch. >> she was a unique catch. she is smart. she is funny.
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several of the officers who had anything to do with her were quite impressed by her ability to talk the drug languagelingo. she can count up the prices of drugs in her head like that. i mean she was sharp. she was charismatic. she was a lookable person who had a quality about her. >> reporter: some of the same qualities that made her so likable seemed to have made investigator pender overconfident. >> he thought he could control her. she knew what she was doing. rachel she felt like she knew what she was doing. she never, related any sense of fear. any concern. she was down to do this. and so i think on both side, there was this overconfidence. >> reporter: they would also have had much less confidence in the operation if either side really knew about the men's backgrounds. especially about green and his violent past. >> if they had actually done the background checks about green they might have been less likely to have sent her in there.
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>> reporter: rachel's parents say it was terribly wrong for the police to have used their daughter the way they did. >> they dent do their job. they didn't protect her. and she lost her life. coming up -- >> no family should ever have to suffer this kind of pain. >> reporter: an outraged family fights back. will police be held accountable? and new information emerges about the suspects at the center of the sting. did they even have drugs with them that day? >> wasn't really worth getting these two guys, versus her being dead. to the now network. population 49 million. 145,000 teenagers are typing a text message at 70 words a minute. average speed of their parents: 8. right now, 90 high schoolers are shopping for new kicks on zappos.com. - none of them got game. - ( buzzer sounds ) 19,000 teenagers are flipping 354,000 burgers - to get the new samsung exclaim. - ( sizzles ) - ( gasps ) - just one of four ing, texting and twittering
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>> reporter: rachel's parent are furious. and ultimately blame the police department for their daughter's death. but it wasn't the tallahassee police department who pulled the trigger. >> no they were just doing what villains do. you give them a little lamb, feed them to the wolves, and they gobble them up. >> reporter: they are suing the tallahassee police department. their attorney is lance block. >> it's disgraceful incompetence on the part of the police in
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this case. every squad car in this city says, trust, loyalty, commitment. that's the slogan for the tallahassee police department. and they violated those principles. >> reporter: but the reality is this, as well. if she had not been messing around, smoking pot, and selling pot, she wouldn't have put herself in this situation which led to her death. it might be harsh but it is true. >> that is not why she is dead. i don't condone rachel's marijuana use, or condone her selling it to her friends. but thousand of kids in this community are smoking marijuana. and they're not getting shot under the eye of the police department. this was a terribly bad operation. disgracefully incompetent. that's why she is dead.
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>> reporter: the state's attorney agrees that the police handled the case poorly. his focus is not on civil liability. it's on the crime itself. ultimately who is responsible for rachel hoffman's death? >> the defendants are. >> reporter: and the police? >> they have some responsibility for the situation being as it was. but the defendants may the decision to take her life. >> reporter: in fact, he points out that while the grand jury issued a report highly critical of the police department, it did not indict any tallahassee officers. but the grand jury did indiet andre green and deneilo bradshaw for first degree murder. if convicted they could face the death penalty. both pleaded not guilty. >> you ask people who was ultimately responsible for rachel hoffman's death. they say green and bradshaw. >> yeah. >> reporter: all the focus has been on the police? does that strike you as odd? >> it is interesting that way. i think because -- the department is this community. i mean that is not right.
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that's not supposed to happen. i think that -- people don't fully understand how they could have let it. >> there is one more thing about this case that may surprise people. it appears that neither man was a big-time drug dealer. in fact, there is no evidence they brought cocaine or ecstasy with them that evening. and they were not indicted on any drug charges in the case. it's possible their only goal was to steal the $13,000. why rachel was killed, may be answered at their trial. no date has been set. >> wasn't really worth getting these two guys who were maybe dealing a little, getting them in jail, versus her being dead. obviously now the answer is no. >> portman says this case raises questions about using confidential informants on the war on drugs not only in tallahassee but also across america. >> is the cost of this really worth it? >> that's what michael levine, a law enforcement expert who spent
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25 years doing undercover work for the dea asks as well. he says what happened to rachel hoffman was avoidable, inexcusable, and sadly happens far more often around the country than people know. >> very rarely hits the papers. i am always surprised when it does. in most cases nobody gives a damn. >> levine says police departments oftentimes don't take seriously the skill required in operation. why does that happen when so much is at stake? >> because of a sheer amateurishness about undercover informant. a hollywoodesque handling of informants and tactics by law enforcement nationwide. >> it seems that everybody involved here had one thing in common. desperation. cops were desperate to make a case. rachel was desperate to get out from under the charges. and the targets were desperate to get their hand on the $13,000. >> there is a world of desperation. law enforcement officers are in
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fact under pressure to come up with statistics and numbers. otherwise somebody else will take their job. the informants are pressured heavily to flip. get out from under the rock they're under. that leads to the danger. in a desperate situation. an informant is going to do very wrong thing. going to get themselves killed or they're going to turn you in, innocent people to save their own butt. happens all the time. >> the tallahassee police department declined dateline's reap quest for an interview. after its own internal affairs investigation which found numerous policy violations, the lead officer in the case, ryan pender was fired. he is a peeling that decision. he declnd to speak to "dateline." others in the department were punished as well including the chief, reprimand, and policies were revised. and almost five months after rachel was killed. the police chief said she never should have been used as a confidential informant and he was wrong for initially blaming
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her for her own death. that is little comfort for rachel's friend and family. whose sweet memories of her compete with searing pain. there is no way to know to grieve about this. it is not a terminal illness, or a car accident. something completely unexpected. no family should ever have to suffer this kind of pain. because of the negligence of the very institution that we trust to protect us. >> i don't accept that my daughter is dead. i will sit at her grave and say "you can't be dead. i won't let you be dead. i am going to keep your spirit alive." >> you never think this is going to happen to you. you never feel you will be in this world of pane that we are in. i sit with her every day. sometimes -- i can talk to her. other times i'm very quiet.
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and i miss her dearly. rachel's parents are fighting to put better safe guards in place to protect confidential police informants. they have just helped pass a new florida law that requires guidelines in writing of exactly what informants will be asked to do and how they can expect to benefit. the measure is called rachel's law. and you can hear more about rachel from her family and her friends. and read chris hansen's blog on our website at datelinemsnbc.com. nearly 25 years ago a smart loving little boy disappeared. his body was found about three weeks later. well, tonight this case is solved. despite an investigation plagued by missed opportunities and shaky witnesses, the truth did finally come out and the moment you meet the boy's mother, you will understand why.
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>> reporter: flint, michigan where the steely flint river winds through car country. where on a beautiful spring day, 20 years ago, one little boy mysteriously vanished. how? why? years passed, decades. the water kept its secrets. memory faded and evidence disappeared. until all that was left was one mother's love and her fragn'ted dreafragn'ted -- fragmented dreams of her child calling her, haunting her, pushing her to find the truth about what had happened to him. when christopher allen brown, whom they called allen was born in november 1973, his brother brenda simpson could not have been happier. was it love right away? >> oh, yeah, i just loved him
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with all my heart. >> reporter: brenda thought her baby looked specially good in yellow. he brought so much joy into my life. >> reporter: when brenda was 1, she separated from his father and they later divorced. in 1978 she married an autoworker named harvey who says he was smitten with her little boy. >> when i fell in love with her. i fell in love with him. this is my son as much as it was hers. i raised him. helped her mold him into the little man we had hoped he was going to become. >> reporter: allen excelled at school and sports. loved pacman, fishing and listening to "through the fire." with chaka khan. ♪ through the fire >> beth had good jobs on the assembly line at general motors. allen had a brother and one on the way. allen's father. justine brown married a woman, robin pettiford, they had two
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little girls. in the sort of blended families where there is divorce, it is kind of complicated. who gets to seat children when. >> i was going to have primary custody of allen. and he had visitation. >> reporter: justine's sister says allen was close to his dad. >> he loved spending time with his father on the weekends or during school breaks. >> reporter: but the relationship between brenda and allen's stepmom was tense. >> they didn't like each other. didn't like each other at all. but brenda would always let allen come to his dad's house and spend time with him. she would never keep him back from his dad. >> reporter: in 1985, allen was 11. when easter rolled around, brenda was surprised when he told her he did not want few spend the week at his father's as they planned. >> his dad kept calling him. he told him i will fact you camping and fishing. >> reporter: the magic words for your son, right? >> they were the magic words. yeah, he packed up his stuff. he was happy.
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he came over and hugged me. he said i love you mom. >> reporter: that was the last you saw of him that day? >> yes. >> reporter: that was monday. friday, brenda came home late and was alarmed to find her sisters waiting on her front porch. >> i rolled the window down. what's wrong? what's wrong? i know something is wrong for them to be at my house at 11:00? >> her sister said allen went missing. it was like, how can that be? missing from what? missing how? he is supposed to be with his dad. >> reporter: brenda called allen's father demanding to know what happened. he explained what he knew. that he and allen had not yet gone fishing, while he was at work that day, his wife rosalynn was home with the kids. rosalynn said that at some point she bought mcdonald's. put it in the kitchen. told the children to go in and eat. and left. when she returned home a few hours later, allen was missing. she looked for him around the neighborhood and then called police.
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>> all i care about right now is finding allen. >> reporter: while police launched an investigation, brenda and her relatives organized a neighborhood search party. >> we are going door to door. talking to people. showing his picture. asking any one if they have seen him. everyone was saying no. >> reporter: sergeant francis tul had almost no training as an investigator but suddenly found himself in charge of a major case. >> i get there and i start talking to the officers to find out what they had come up with. >> reporter: sergeant tull's first thought. run away, or possible kidnapping. the fbi was called in. tull says they worked together, every lead went nowhere. >> you probably put together a sort of pro file who is this child. who was that boy in your mind's eye? who was he? >> a missing, scared little boy. and that we needed to find him.
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>> reporter: days passed with no sign of allen. franting for help, brenda did something she would do again and again in the years to come. she called the local newspaper." "flint journal" reporter was sent to her house. >> you could tell she was drained. this was something she had to do. >> reporter: this story was one of jeff's first front page bylines but did not bring brenda any closer to her son. one week passed. brenda appeared on local tv. >> he wouldn't leave for no reason. you know? and he wouldn't get in the car with anybody. somebody had to take him. >> you must have had a lot of conversations with god during these really difficult days. what were you asking for? praying for? >> i was praying to get my baby back. and i wanted him to be alive. but after about 17, 18, days. >> what were you praying for
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then? >> then i prayed the lord would give me his body so that i could bury him. ♪ >> reporter: on april 30th, 18 days after allen disappeared, sergeant tull expanded his search efforts to include this peaceful bend in the flint river three miles from allen's father's home. by noon, word came that they had found a body. brenda's sad prayer had come true. >> what they call in description, deep down you knew. and you know, just a -- your heart starts sinking. >> reporter: reporter jeff smith raced to the scene. >> you could see law enforcement people were out there with -- with the tarp and the body bag. just very quiet. just very solemn. >> reporter: what did you lose that day? >> a big chunk out of my heart. i lost all my dreams that i had for him. >> reporter: brenda's grief was
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overwhelming but so were her questions. allen was not the type of cheld to wander off. why had he been at the river? how did he get there? discovering his body was just the beginning of a mystery that would haunt her for decades. >> it didn't make sense. none of it made sense. because he wouldn't have went out there without permission. none of this is adding up. >> reporter: coming up -- the investigation begins and tips pour in about alan going off with a stranger. one resembling a known serial killer. >> reporter: how did they describe the guy? >> white male in his 30s. >> reporter: when "down by the river" continues. the knock-out artists who are finding more ways to spread their dollar further. - to bolder color in less time. - ♪ are you feeling it? say hello to newer ideas and lowered prices, enabling more people to turn more saving into more doing. - that's the power of the home depot. - ♪ are you feeling it?
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>> reporter: 11-year-old alan brown was buried on may 10th, 1985. >> it was a standing-room-only at that church. and all his little friends were there. and flowers. >> reporter: it looked like a terrible accident. alan could not swim. somehow he must have wandered over to the river and fallen in. a routine autopsy concluded the boy had died from accidental drowning.
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but that was not the end of it. he cam to me and asked me did he drink? i said drink? >> they asked if he drank, he is 11 years old. >> right. >> reporter: the question was asked because the toxicology report came back with results that were highly unusual. his blood alcohol level was .15. that's twice the level considered legally drunk for an adult. and then there was a second reading, .07 for isopropyl, or rubbing alcohol. the investigator in charge of the case, sergeant francis tull argued with the medical examiner to change alan's cause of death to homicide. but the me refused. >> he felt that, you know, a young boy got into the parents' liquor cabinet or got with some friends and they had some alcohol and part of their drinking. >> reporter: despite the ruling. tull says he and the fbi continued to investigate starting with conversations with
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family members like alan's stepmother. rosalynn. >> reporter: he was swamped with tips most useless and with reports from people saying they had seen alan get into a car. >> we had several vehicles, a white van, a green pickup truck that people said they had seen him getting into. >> reporter: how did they describe the guy. >> white male, you know, in his 30s. >> reporter: that description matched a serial killer on the loose in nearby detroit who forced young boys to drink alcohol, raped and then killed them. but tull says he couldn't prove the man had been in flint. were you thinking it was a stranger? >> i never ruled that out. but my most focus was on, had to be somebody he knew. >> reporter: meantime, brenda was wrestling with her suspicions and doubtsch she had begun to wonder about alan's resistance to visiting his father and stepmother rosalind that day. what had she missed.
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what did he tell you about the visits? >> most of the time he would talk about spending time with his dad. but as he got older he started acting a little different. a little strange. >> he would come in. and would be kind of down. a little depressed. we'd ask him, what's wrong? he would say nothing. we used to call it over to my daddy house syndrome. an it would pass. by the next day he would be back to normal. >> reporter: in her mind. brenda played over and over rosalind's story about what happened the day alan disappeared. >> she said she went to mcdonald's and to get them some food. when she got back home she was in a hurry to go to this job interview. she took the food in the house, and she came back out and told alan to go in and he dent go in. >> reporter: for brenda the story didn't make sense. alan loved mcdonald's she said. more importantly she couldn't believe that he would have wandered three miles away to the
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river. >> alan wasn't that type of child. he didn't go anywhere without permission. >> you didn't like her anyway did you? >> no. i didn't like how she treated my son. he was so loving and caring the all he wanted to do was please people. >> how come you didn't call your ex-husband and say what's going on? >> i did. >> what did he say? >> e thought i was psycho. i just need someone to blame. i just don't want to accept. >> reporter: the reporter at the flint journal had his own questions about rosalind's story. he had gun to visit her for an interview a few days after alan's body was found. she stood in the door way. blocking the door way. the entire time i spoke with her she never looked me in the eye. >> reporter: he wondered what she wasn't saying. >> i just knew she knew something. brenda said maybe they went down to the river. he fell in. she olympipanicked. she was trying to cover up the fact that she was down at the riverside. >> reporter: sergeant tull had little more than the reporter,
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rumors, hunches, suspicions and was very short on the facts. >> other than the toxicology showing alcohol in his system. there is no evidence for anything. >> reporter: alan's case was in a kind of limbo, classified as an accident, yet not officially closed. as the weeks and months go on did it sort of start moving back on the priority list? >> i had no support from anybody on that particular case because "it was ruled an accidental drowning." >> reporter: five months after alan disappeared brenda had given birth to her third son. now she was preoccupied with what happened to alan. saving everything important in a small blue suitcase. she also began unannounced visits to the police. every time you show up. two, three times a week on the phone. what are they telling you repeatedly? >> that they're investigating it. >> reporter: what had once been holidays on brenda's calendar were now rituals of mourning.
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sad visits to alan's grave on his birthday, and the anniversary of his death. often brenda would play his music, take out his pictures, and cry. >> i didn't know how. >> i feel so cold. >> to chase the pain away that she was enduring. i didn't know what to do. four years after alan's death, the gm plant where brenda worked closed. there was no new information on what had happened to alan. living in flint had become painful. >> mine gut i knew that who ever did this i had trusted my son with. alan didn't go anywhere with strangers. i believe, someone did something to him. and i believe there was really, really close. and i couldn't live here and not know who that person was. >> reporter: the family packed up and moved to california. and there, alan began to haunt brenda in her dreams.
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>> it was like he was trying to give me a sign. tell me what happened? tell me what happened? and just as he would get ready to tell me i would wake up. >> reporter: coming up -- alan couldn't tell her what happened. but what about a witness? she gives you a statement and basically said she saw rosalind plying this kid with alcohol. did that set off alarm bells with you? had a key piece of evidence slipped through the cracks? when "dateline" continues. to go green. have e the polar bears, daddy. but, i'm not sold. well, the money you'll save with this washing machine will pay for the dryer. why didn't one of you tell me that? this just in. the money you save with this washer... will pay for the dryer. the most energy-star rated appliances... and the people who know them best. save 20% on kenmore plus 10% on all other brands. sears. life. well spent. that's a-- tiny netbook. yeah, it's-- good-looking, lightweight.
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cases get cold. this one was ice cold. ice cold. >> yes, yes. >> did it every kind of resurface over the years or did it stay pretty much dormant? >> for the most part it set on the corner of my desk so i never would forget it. >> reporter: now living in california, brenda simpson periodically visited flint usually around april 12th. the day her son alan disapirnd 1985. using the media to stir up publicity for alan's case. she appeared on tv with lead investigator, sergeant francis tull around 1990. >> i am hoping like with this interview here, maybe someone that didn't want to talk, you know, five years ago, will, you know, decide to come forward.
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>> reporter: then again by herself a few years later. >> oh. ain't going to give up. ain't going to give up. >> reporter: jeff smith had now been a reporter with the "flint journal" nearly a decade. she called me out of the blue. >> reporter: brenda had come to flint to post fliers seek information about her son. >> i thought yes i will do something on that. i kind of thought after all these years, there was slim to no chance of them getting any new information. there was no way i was going to tell a mother to give up hope of ever finding out what happened to their child. i can't do that. >> reporter: as always brenda called the cops. >> they knew my voice. the girls that answered my phone would say hold on, brenda. just a minute, brenda. >> it's brenda. what am i going to say to her? >> reporter: what did you say? >> i know, brenda. i'm trying. something to that effect. >> reporter: were you always telling the truth when you said i'm trying? >> yes, yes. >> reporter: okay. >> i never stopped trying.
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>> reporter: brenda didn't either. in part she says because in her dreams, alan would not let her rest. >> he never aged in his dream. still 11. just like he was when he left that day. it wasn't like he was in any pain. just that drive. the drive in the dream to keep pushing. >> reporter: brenda tried to focus on her two surviving sons, husband and her job. years passed and her sons grew up and left home. the little boy in her dreams became harder to ignore. >> i knew what he was pushing me to do. pushing me to come back to michigan. >> reporter: so in 2002, 17 years after alan's death. brenda and harvey moved back to flint. brenda retraced her well-worn path to alan's grave. she quit work so she could concentrate full time on finding out what had happened to her son. she called the police department, she says, she didn't hear back. so she called again. and again.
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now they're trying to dodge my phone calls. they're not answering. >> reporter: sergeant tull says he gave brenda all his phone numbers, work, cell and home and always returned her calls. but brenda still felt she wasn't being heard. she says she finally left him an angry voice mail. >> i'm coming to put a tent up outside your door and no one else is coming in until you deal with me. >> reporter: brenda says that got his attention and she finally called back. she asked him to bring alan's case file to his house including autopsy photos which she wanted to look at for the very first time. >> i got to see it in my mind. i got to know that's my child. >> reporter: the photos were devastating. but brenda found something else in the file that changed her mind about the entire investigation. this statement, taken from a woman claiming to have seen alan's stepmother rosalind and her brother forcing alan to
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drink alcohol and sexually abusing him in the months before he died. and the woman overheard them boast about forcing alan to walk the plank. >> walk the plank was the term in the statement. >> reporter: sitting in the file the whole time? >> yeah. ever since may of 1985. >> reporter: sergeant tull is the person who conducted the 1985 interview with that woman. when we asked him about it. he had only a vague recollection of that statement and the woman who had given it 20 years earlier. she comes to the station, gives you a statement, and basically said she saw rosalind plying this kid with alcohol did that set off alarm bells with you? >> yeah, if that was the case. there had to be -- more to it. we would have definitely focused on that. >> reporter: tull says he and the fbi followed up on a lot of allegations at the tomb of alan's death. none of them led anywhere. brenda could not believe that statement had sat untouched for
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all of those years. so i had to tell him, i said what are we going to do? i don't want him to know how upset i am. >> you are trying to be calm? >> trying to be calm. because i know i got to do somethingch he tells me well i am going to take it back and have some more people look at it. i said okay. >> reporter: by this time, brenda was completely disillusioned with tull and his efforts. it no longer mattered. tull retired and the case was assigned to a new detective who asked her to be patient. soon she says, hoo te too was dodging her calls. >> reporter: gave you nor fire? >> right. whenever they told me know it made me fight harder. >> reporter: brenda turned to reporter jeff smith at the "flint journal." >> called me up again. didn't have to identify herself. i recognized her voice. >> reporter: jeff went to brenda any house and looked through the files. >> really kind of shook her world when she saw the notes. she just knew at that point, the
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cops had really dropped the ball there. >> reporter: he wrote the article published on the 19th anniversary of alan's death saying brenda was threatening to turn up the pressure on police and to start singing about the specifics of the case if authorities did not make headway soon. the next day, 9:00 a.m. sharp, came a call from the police department, asking brenda to come in to talk. and there she met the man who would become her hero. >> reporter: you smile when you say his name? >> he was a good send. the first person who would listen to me. andit didn't take him very long to tell me that it was murder and that he would prove it. >> reporter: but how? he would start by talking with one of the last people to see alan alive. >> i blame myself for a long time because i let him go. >> reporter: when "down by the river" continues. how authoritiet
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away.. the actions that now has him facing attempted murder charges. and another disturbing case of animal abuse under investigation.., who police believe is behind the brutal attack... and the charges they may now face.
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19 years had passed by the time detective gerald parks took over the investigation into the death of alan brown. parks was retired and worked as an adviser to the flint cold case squad for $1 a month. let's be clear. every month for all your work you get paid $1. >> a month. >> reporter: a month. >> at the end of the year i get better than $11. uncle sam has got to get his
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share. how you doing? >> you are looking good. >> reporter: brenda says parks did something no one else had done. listened to her and included her in the investigation. >> how you doing, sir? >> he started piecing it together. calling me, asking me about people. all this stuff has been in here. >> reporter: detective parks began by digging into the little blue suitcase brenda filled over the years with information about alan. >> she had amazingly a lot of stuff that helped us in our case. parks said right away he agreed this was no accidental drowning. you are about three miles from the river from the house. and if you were going to go fishing and you are a young, 11-year-old boy, first thing you would have took was your fishing pole. he didn't. >> i'm going to start with friday and we'll go from there. >> reporter: parks reviewed the case files and constructed a timeline for the day alan disappeared starting with the moment his stepmom rosalind picked him up at his aunt's
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house. >> he was with his aunt the day he disappeared. we talked to the aunt. she is very, very good. >> she came to pick him up. >> reporter: dateline also talked to alan's aunt. she remembers quite clearly what happened when rosalind picked him up that afternoon. >> he was crying. bawling his eyes out. didn't want few go with him. she was hollering at him. forcing him to get into the carve i have never seen him acting like that. beating on the back of the windows. screaming, hollering, aunt, jeanie, don't make me go. don't make me go. eventually they drove away. >> he had an intuition he was in trouble. he felt there was something wrong. you know that -- that he wasn't liked. he wasn't wanted. and he had a fear. >> i blame myself for a long time because i let him go. and if i had let him stayed, maybe, i don't know, he would be alive. >> reporter: park's interest in rosalind increased he studied
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the statement in 1985 and brought her in for questioning. the story she told him now was very different from what she said back then. times changed. facts changed. very basic facts. in 1985, she said, her mother was at work. >> you can't remember -- you can remember things you do and forever and ever. because it is something you actually did. but when you try to remember a lie it's very difficult. >> reporter: then there was this. the statement from the woman claiming to have seen rosalind and her brother, force alan to drink and sexually molest him in the months before his death. when parks tracked her down.
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she provided a bigger tip. a woman named kathy that had been married to montell may actually have seen whatever happened that day. one of the goals was to find who ever this kathy person was? >> well that wasn't easy. because kathy had left the state. and she wasn't easy to find. >> jerry found her. jerry found her. >> reporter: parks and his investigators finally found kathy in north carolina and interviewed her in the fall of 2004. what she told them would be the first major crack in the case. for the first time. kathy told what she had seen the day alan disappeared. she was now divorced from montell. back in 1985, they were living here at this house in flint. kathy said she was feeding her infant son when montell and rosalind came into the house supporting alan between them.
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kathy said they brought alan into the spare bedroom. next montell came into the kitchen, carrying a small brown bottle with a skull and cross bones on it. she said montell poured clear liquid into the kool-aid and into the eggs given to christopher alan. did you see chris drink this? >> yes, chris drank this. >> reporter: why had she kept this horrible secret all of these years? kathy said montell frequent leap beat her. and on that day he held up the small bottle of poison and told her that if she told anyone, she and her baby would be next. parks called rosalind back in saying he had an eyewitness implicating her and threatened her with prison for life if she didn't start talking.
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>> reporter: in november of 2004, retired detective gerald parks brought rosalind brown in yet again to discuss the death of her 11-year-old stepson alan. this time he had something he hadn't had before. incriminating eyewitness testimony placing her at the scene. >> they're lying. i didn't do that. none of that. >> park and his investigators pushed. >> what choice do you have here, prison for the rest of your life. >> reporter: after four hoursf interrogation, rosalind admitted she and her brother montel had taken alan to the river that day. but she blamed his death on her brother. >> we took him to the river. he threw him in. i never touched the boy. and i went home. now you talk to montel. he is going to say i did it. go ahead.
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i will be the witness. take the polygraph, whatever you want me to do. can i please go now? >> after all of these years, you learn that your son was in fact poisoned and it looks like your ex-husband's wife may be responsible? to hear that, what did that feel look for you? finally? >> i was right all the time. that's what it felt like. it felt like i was right all the time. >> reporter: detective parks now had the big break he needed enough evidence to get court permission to exhume the little boy's body. to get a new autopsy. and finally, to have alan's death classified as a homicide. he took all of that to the district attorney. >> we think we know what happened. we think it was a homicide. and we think we know who did it. but that's still not enough. >> reporter: in may, 2005, stating there simply was not enough evidence for a conviction, the district attorney declined to indict
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rosalind brown and her brother montel. for three months simpson said she waited hoping an arrest warrant would be issued. late last week she learned her dreams of closing the case once and for all would have to wait a little longer. >> felt like somebody kicked me in my gut. i was so devastated. i got on the couch. i laid on the couch for about two days. didn't hardly eat. didn't hardly drink anything. then finally after a couple days i get up off the couch. i said pick yourself up. you got one more fight left in you. and i tell my husband. we go downtown. i started to process of trying to get to the attorney general's office. i'm not taking no for an answer. >> the dcht a tells you know you go to the attorney general. >> got to find another door to kick open. >> reporter: behind that door was a young assistant attorney general, orande patterson who found 22 years of accumulated evidence now squarely in his
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lap. >> first thought was -- it's not going to go anywhere. it's not going to result in any charges. and give an honest effort, go through the box, review it, write a memorandum. stating why. we couldn't do it. >> reporter: the prosecutor had not counted on brenda. >> nothing in this world was just going to stop her from pursuing this. that was her son. >> she called him weekly some times daily. his updates gradually convinced her that he was taking alan's case seriously. soon she confided that her son was still haunting her in her dreams. >> he is still coming. >> reporter: still saying the same kind of thing? >> right. but i -- but i'm feeling like -- i'm on the right track. >> over here, honey. just like a free spirit. >> reporter: in april, 2006, brenda released 21 yellow balloons one for each year alan
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had been dead. but patterson wasn't sure he had enough evidence to prosecute. so much depended on eyewitness kathy pettiford and ever since that day in 1985 she had been in and outof mental institutions. as a witness she was less than ideal. >> i would just go over and over and over again what kathy had to say. i wondered whether she was -- telling me the truth or whether she was making this up. >> reporter: to see for himself, the prosecutor conducted a series of interview with kathy. and she would later say in a hearing, the day alan disappeared, she saw montel and rosalind give him poison kool-aid and eggs and then saw them come out of the bedroom with the boy whom she called chris in montel's arms. kathy said rosalind and montel
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left and when they returned their shoes and pant legs were muddy. did they say something to you? >> what was rosalind saying or doing? >> she was crying. >> reporter: the prosecutor decided even with kathy's history of mental illness she would hold up on the stand. her testimony was crucial. >> the scientific evidence helped her, she helped the sigh yn tiffic evidence. >> reporter: for patterson and detective parks there was one last looming question. why? >> to poison a little boy by pouring poison in his scrambled eggs seems so outrageous and preposterous you wonder why someone would do that. what do you think is the motive here? >> well, there is a lot of jealousy. a lot of jealousy. >> reporter: both investigator jerry parks and the prosecutor have another theory. they say it is possible that alan had been sexually abused by
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rosalind and montel and he was about to tell his mother. if that was the case they killed him not out of jealousy but to protect themselves. in may 2007, patterson charged rosalind and montel with first degree murder. he said it was gratifying to give brenda the news. >> she was very happy. and i guess happy is an understatement as to how she felt. >> there was a lot of yip-yip hooray. >> all of a sudden the trees are greener. the grass is greener. i knew they had the right people. all i could say was thank you, jesus. thank you, jerry. >> reporter: after 22 long years, brenda simpson was about to have her day in court. coming up -- but would it bring the justice she so badly wanted? >> i just -- i just, i broke down. ♪
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august, 2008. brenda simpson's decade long battle was nearing an end. they were about to be tried for murder. >> like 100 pound had been lifted off me. i was walking around with two bricks. but i can't put them down. i got to keep going. i got to keep going. >> reporter: the prosecutor had lined up what he hoped was a strong case. a toxicology report showing alcohol in alan's blood. an eyewitness and rosalind's own statement that she and montel brought alan to the river that day. still he worried it wasn't enough. we could lose the case. and i was mindful of that from the beginning. the court appointed defense attorney felt pressure too. he believed his client was innocent.
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>> so just so i am clear you believe that alan died of an accidental drowning? >> correct. >> she was an unlikely murder defendant. >> the majority of my clients are not women in their middle 50s. meeting her she talked about her grand kids and her kids. and her -- her career and her husband. >> reporter: her lawyer set out to debunk the toxicology report. he called in an expert who cited studies showing the alcohol in alan's blod could have been created naturally. a normal byproduct of a body decomposing in the water. when it came to witness kathy pettiford he questioned how anyone with her history of mental illness could accurately remember what happened one day 20 years earlier. >> the poison out of a skull and cross bones bottle. i have never seen that in anything other than bugs bunny or cartoons. >> reporter: as for the admission she and mont echt l had been at the water that day with alan. her lawyer believed that was coerced by the police.
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>> the statement came at the end of about 4 1/2 hours of an interview with one detective. and the statement was made after various different threats were made to her. threats of spending the rest of your life in prison. threats to be prosecuted. the defense had one big advantage. motive. in court, the prosecution never brought up any allegations of sexual abuse. and rosalynn's lawyer argued there was no compelling reason for rosalind to kill the little boy. does your client have any history of violence? >> none. in fact, not one witness had ever said they saw her even spank this child. so the argument in closing argument was how do you get from not even disciplining him with physical punishment to a plot to poison and murder him and put him in the river? it doesn't make sense. >> reporter: eight days of testimony, two days of jury deliberations and then for both defendants, a one word verdict.
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guilty. >> guilty of first degree premeditated murder. >> it sounded good hearing it. i just -- i just -- i broke down. i just broke down. it was look a floodgate opened. >> couldn't help but cry. because you think after all these years, after all this suffering, after all this pleading, we finally got the justice that alan deserves. >> reporter: the prosecutor was 13 when alan died. >> long time coming. >> long time coming. >> reporter: alan's father, justine brown stayed married to rosalind all those years. the reporter, jeff smith, also attended the trial. >> i felt like the media. really kept it out there. and put pressure on the court system to see this through. in part, brenda blames the original investigator, sergeant
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francis tull saying she would not have needed media pressure if he had done his job early on. tull says he was hampered by the medical examiner's finding that alan's death was accidental and says this case was always in his heart. >> if she were sitting in this seat instead of me, what would you say to her? >> i would tell her i was sorry. that i did not do this for her. >> reporter: that is not something you hear every day. sergeant tull testified at the trial and spoke to brenda briefly afterwards. >> she looked at me and said she was disappointed. i said so was i in myself. >> reporter: take is a pretty big guy to say that? >> well it is the truth. when it's truth it's easier to say. i didn't solve the case for her. i should have focused on rosali inn. d more. i should have picked up maybe that extra piece. >> reporter: brenda will never get years back she spent fighting for alan.
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but at long last, her crusade is over. >> happy birthday. >> reporter: did you ever hear from alan in your dreams after? >> no. haven't dreamt about him. it's just like he is at peace now. >> reporter: time has finally washed away some of the pain caused on the banks of the flint river. and one extraordinarily devoted mother has released the last balloon in memory of her son. i think nine out of ten women after 15, 16 years, probably would have stopped. >> i couldn't stop. i had to do it for alan. >> reporter: what is in you? >> i loved him. i loved him. and i just didn't think he deserved to die like that. so i had to fight for him.
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and no one else could do it but me. no one else was going to care like i cared. no one else was going to push like i was going to push. live, local, latebreaking. >> we begin with new details in the crash involving michael phelps. >> please t u

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